Remember to use one of these before you leave!

    Answer Page for
  Have a question that's not answered here? Ask it via the Home Page.
Need help with an essay you've written? Look here

    Home Page     Jane's Life     Book Reviews     Contents Page     Links Page     Essay Help

<---More Recent 72. Feminism & marriage:
P&P, S&S and Emma
71. Sense & Sensibility as anti-romantic Earlier Answers-->

Name:Arti Chawla
Question 73 I am doing a project on Austen's Pride and Prejudice in college.
Kindly answer my two questions it will be a great help for me.
q 1 ) How does Austen inter-weave the theme of gender injustice with that of love and marriage ? 
q 2) Attempt a feminist reading of Pride and Prejudice
Reply Dear Arti,

Happy to oblige, my dear, tho’ other answers on the site bear on this, of course. Also I intuit a certain lack of confidence on your part in approaching my admittedly formidable but fun text. You can make discoveries on your own, you know, so take heart and believe in your own ability to find interesting concepts and discuss them. And, as it is, I actually spell things out at times. Still, I can help a bit. The story begins with the social and psychological impact on a family of five daughters of an arrangement which, on the death of Mr Bennet, entails away their property and its not inconsiderable grounds--with its ‘prettyish little sort of wilderness’, for example, as Lady Catherine calls it--to a Man. I pointed up the feminism by making the man in particular Mr Collins, an argument in propria persona against such patriarchal arrangements as the entail.

Not having a son has put out all Mr Bennet’s plans. Mrs Bennet’s nervous silliness and embarrassing loudness over the need to catch rich men partly derive from her understandable hysteria over the peril the family is in thanks to the aforementioned patriarchal arrangement. We love Jane and Elizabeth partly because they sustain such dignity and self-respect in this ‘difficult situation’. They show what a woman should be without being too goody-goody. We see Elizabeth’s close friend sell her body to a man neither Elizabeth nor herself can at all respect (yes, it’s Mr Collins again), as he runs around at the hest of his patroness Lady Catherine trying to catch something in his silly net of unspontaneous words. Mr Collins underlines the perilous situation ladies tend to find themselves in as he recites the details of Elizabeth’s financial situation during his proposal speech, confident that this in itself will guarantee his success.

Of course I didn’t sentimentalise the idea of women as such as post-romantic feminist critics might. The arrogant Lady Catherine is the one of the worst characters in the book. But why? Is it perhaps that a lady may feel she has to be particularly bossy in this social context to get her way? That seems to be what Lady C. thinks anyway. Patriarchal arrangements may have helped turn her into a petty tyrant. Again, Lydia and Kitty Bennet, the youngest daughters, are without doubt very silly people. But of course their social position puts pressure on them, especially as ladies weren’t supposed to have ‘careers’, so its natural their heads should be full of nothing but ideas about the men who court them, or rather whom they virtually court. They are also silly because Mr Bennet despises them, with a silliness which makes him despise them more. He may be angry and alienated from them simply because they turned out to be daughters, not the son which, by the time they arrived, he was desperate for. They are also very much influenced by and resemble the mother he has also come to despise. But it looks as if she has to shoulder some domestic burdens in the light of his constant ‘retiring to the library’ as a gentleman scholar who is, he probably tells himself, rather above sordid practical arrangements.

With best wishes

Jane Austen.

December 5, 2004 23:16:31 (GMT Time)

Name:Catherine Birks                     Top
Question 72 I'm looking into the theme of marriage through the novels p & p, s & s and Emma. I want to try and prove that the way in which Austen deals with the lead females in these novels and the attitudes to marriage she attributes to them, proves that she had feminist ideals. Any tips?
Reply Dear Catherine,

It would be too much to say that the feminism is something the reader finds in my work rather than something I ‘put there’. But I wrote novels which dramatised mixed feelings of my time towards political issues, including feelings about the position of women. However, I did not sentimentalise the idea of woman, or women as such as the Victorians later tended to. As a child of the Anglican Rectory with a strong ethical drive, and brothers who became respectively great landowners, naval captains, eventually admirals, Oxford men who became respectively clergyman and banker &c., my family ethos didn’t formally favour social ‘experiment’ and female emancipation. Also it should always be remembered that I was pre-Romantic and pre-Victorian. Feminism’s most powerful spokesperson in my time was Mary Wollstonecraft, but her posthumous reputation was scandalous, thanks to an injudicious memoir by her husband William Godwin. However, her sentiments surface in Persuasion, with Mrs Croft’s plea for women to be treated as ‘rational creatures’.

Feminism applies to Sense and Sensibility, my first published work, in its showing how women as likely to be worse off in the inheritance stakes, as the three Dashwood ladies retreat to Devonshire poverty after being cheated of the money to be left them by John and Fanny Dashwood. Most of the family property was made over to half-brother John and his terrible wife by the old Dashwood gentleman who, like John, concentrated his affection and cash on the little, spoilt male heir, Harry, despite the fact that it was the impoverished Dashwood ladies who had cared for the old gentleman and now badly needed help. The two daughters are both admirable, and pursue plain living and high thinking as intellectuals who cannot attend university or find a career for themselves. Marriage is their only favourable terminus ad quem, but they find that to be poor but deserving is almost not to be deserving as the forces of society seem to unite to crush them. Marianne, the younger, is a high-spirited practioner of the cult of sensibility which finds the insipidity and hypocrisy of drawing rooms intolerable. She is a kind of feminine free spirit, but her determination to honour the true voice of feeling like a sort of feminist, sort of radical up to a point, will see her abandoned and almost suicidal after her bruising encounter with the dashing but duplicitous John Willoughby and hard-hearted metropolitan society. I expect you can fill in the details, my love.

In Pride and Prejudice the entail afflicting the Bennets, with brilliant Elizabeth and lovely Jane in the firing-line will see their property of Longbourn made over to a man simply for being that. Had Mr Bennet had a son they wouldn’t have had this towering initial problem. We see femininity under pressure. Elizabeth sees her friend marry a man she does not love or even respect for a ‘prudent settlement’. She herself has refused him and the reader rejoices in this strong, independent lady, especially as her wooer is not only an ass; he thinks she must marry him given the financial situation already sketched. As the inheritor of Longbourn, silly conceited Mr Collins is a sort of walking argument against patriarchal arrangements; so that sounds pretty feminist. Find some more details, my dear.

In Emma we see the silliness of ladies—I didn’t sentimentalise them: Emma herself is brilliant but spoilt. She has lost her clever sensible mother at an early age, and has much to learn, but I still thought she was a wonderful, attractive being. She is exposed and vulnerable partly through her feminine position, but also through the accident of her father’s being a dim and hypochondriacal man. In so far as he exercises authority he does so in dubious ways, without judgement. As a woman, the accomplished Jane Fairfax depends entirely on the whims of her indulged and immature fiancé Frank. As women, Miss Bates and her old mother, a clerical widow, have fallen on hard times, thanks to the lot of clergy wives and spinsters. Mrs Elton looks like a woman made over-assertive, suggesting she might learn to know her place in this old-money society in which her brassy bossiness goes down like a lead balloon. But her strident claims to attention depend entirely on her brother’s status as the new owner of an estate—Maple Grove. Perhaps the distortions of her awful personality partly depend on this underlying dependency when claims to status are in question.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

November 29, 2004 23:58:29 (GMT Time)

Name:Yuta Higa                     Top
Question 71 I have to write an essay about Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. The essay title is " What is it that makes Sense and Sensibility an anti-Romantic novel?".
Reply Dear Yuta,

In a sense, one might leave this open, by rephrasing the question as ‘what, if anything makes Sense and Sensibility an unromantic novel? And one might end by saying ‘nothing’! although this would seem to be eccentric in terms of what the novel itself seems to propose. The romantic character Marianne Dashwood causes a great deal of pain and suffering, not least to herself, of course, but most of all to the sister who cares about her so deeply. She flouts social rules and regulations and polite forms and shirks the duty, given to Eleanor, of ‘telling lies when politeness requires’, to her hostess Lady Middleton for example. The trouble with this ‘duty’ is that lies are lies, and the ‘prudence’ and ‘address’ Elinor practises forbids spontaneity, encourages hypocrisy, and makes Elinor sound a bit like the villainess of the piece here, Lucy Steele, who, though vulgar and uneducated, enters, with her sister Anne (Nancy) the ‘good society’ of Barton Park at the hest of the undiscriminating Sir John Middleton , and becomes popular by telling people, especially the gullible and insipid Lady Middleton, exactly what they want to hear. Marianne, who indulges sensibility, will have nothing to do with this ethos of pretence. Is she perhaps in this way the ‘unintentional’ heroine? Elinor keeps her feelings to herself to avoid upsetting others She embodies an Augustan, a pre-romantic sense of what is due to others, to society, and this includes an awareness of the undesirability of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve. But we have already seen the disadvantages of this.

However, the fact that Marianne suffers so much, and even causes suffering, especially to Elinor, as a result of displaying her emotions for the world to see, particularly for John Willoughby, preoccupied with worldly status and the need for cash and addicted to pleasure(s) of various kinds, does not make her spontaneity a bad thing in itself. She was a little unlucky to fall in with a handsome young fellow who was not at all what he appeared to be, especially as he himself initially worked hard to seem like the sort of character Marianne would like, but his pressing financial needs made him court a richer lady. Where Elinor, the anti-romantic does score over Marianne and her romantic ‘philosophy’ is shown in her patient and accepting attitude to prosy, good-hearted but unintelligent Mrs Jennings, who strains tolerance but is basically a good sort. But the debate continues: for example, Marianne’s love for (wild) nature in the best romantic manner is ironised but felt to be much nobler than the attitude to the natural world of Marianne and Elinor’s half-brother John Dashwood with his mercenary approach and ‘improving’ mind-set. Marianne’s romanticism also seems at odds with what Mrs Jennings calls the pursuit of ‘money and greatness’—but, as Elinor points out, she requires more worldly wealth to make her happy than Elinor herself. This is reflected is the matrimonial arrangements: Marianne marries a landed Colonel, Elinor a clergyman, Edward Ferrars, who lives in a less ambitious style on his estate. There is much to be said on both soides. Perhaps that is what S&S itself ‘came to say’. What do you think, my dear?

November 10, 2004 23:55:57 (GMT Time)